Woke up this morning to see the thermometer at -21 degrees Celsius with the wind gusting outside, so I could only shiver at what the wind chill was. Perhaps it was enough to stop even inter-molecular activity. Happily, things will improve tomorrow with a forecast of an absolutely torrid -5 C!
So to start off this week, perhaps I can introduce something heartwarming. This goes back to the early days of my time living in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture. One early Sunday morning past midnight when I was watching the "Countdown TV" music ranking show on TBS, I saw the usual Top 10, and among the myriad entries of rock bands and pop groups performing their hits, there was one odd enka tune.
At the time when I wasn't such a huge enka fan and the term "blog" didn't even exist let alone me deciding to create my own blog on kayo kyoku, to see an enka song on the Top 10 rather floored me. I kinda went "They still create enka tunes at the end of the century?!". My assumption at the time was that the genre had ended up as a pop cultural construct frozen in time and propped up by tradition and sentimentality.
Yet, this enka song "Mago" (Grandchild) was appearing weekly on the highest positions of the chart with the video of a proud grandparent in yukata doting over his adorable young charge. Would wonders never cease? As it turns out, enka was still being produced but it was this "Mago" that bucked expectations and decided to head up the charts.
"Mago" was the April 1999 debut single of cherry farmer Itsuro Oizumi（大泉逸郎）from Yamagata Prefecture. According to a Nikkan Gendai online article from July last year (via J-Wiki), Oizumi had won a Hokkaido Minyo Prize in 1977 as an amateur minyo singer, and his first venue as such was at Yamagata Prison. Skip ahead many years to early 1994 when his first grandchild was born. He was so overjoyed that three days following the birth, he asked his friend, lyricist Yoshiharu Araki（荒木良治）, to create some words for a song that he was going to compose to commemorate the happy arrival. He released the song under his own power and sold about 8000 copies, mainly in the Tohoku region.
Then, five years later, Teichiku Entertainment made a major release of "Mago", and things went gangbusters from there on. On the general Oricon charts, the song peaked at No. 3 but on the Oricon enka charts, it went to No. 1 and basically stayed at the top for 6 straight months (November 1999 ~ May 2000). It became a million-seller and has sold at least 2.3 million copies. "Mago" barely missed becoming one of the Top 10 singles of 1999 by coming in at No. 11. At the Japan Record Awards, it won a Best Songwriting prize and NHK came calling by inviting Oizumi to perform at the 2000 Kohaku Utagassen.
Although Oizumi still keeps growing cherries, the farmer also continues to put out songs. Up to 2015, he's released 19 singles, and apparently as of 2018, he still goes to Yamagata Prison monthly to devote some time to, I assume, counsel prisoners. However, according to Sankei News, his friend and lyricist Araki passed away in May 2017 at the age of 91.